A LIFE IN THE THEATRE by David Mamet – with Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight – Broadway Theater Review

by Cindy Pierre on October 23, 2010

in Theater-New York

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Last year, T.R. Knight left a lucrative TV role on the high profile Grey’s Anatomy because he wasn’t fulfilled as an actor.  The world has been waiting to see if he’ll fall flat on his face ever since.  David Mamet’s unsatisfying A Life in the Theatre may not be the forehead-splitter that many anticipated, but it’s still a stumble in the wrong direction for Knight.

Knight returns to his theatrical roots by taking on the role of John, a young actor envied by his frequent co-star Robert (Patrick Stewart), an aging thespian bent on depositing wisdom almost as much as he is bent on withdrawing youth.  Why they always work together is not divulged (one must presume they are repertory members), but their relationship is not Knight’s main problem.  What makes this a disappointing venture for him is the leap from a character with reduced screen time to a character with reduced substance.

Much more of an acting exercise than a play, A Life in the Theatre is a playground to demonstrate skill but not heart or passion.  Consisting of over twenty scenes on and offstage, the two accomplished actors exchange snappy dialogue that is almost always pregnant with frustration and fears, but seldom gives birth. But that’s Mamet. Robert gets less competent, John gets more annoyed, the monotony of the play’s format gets tiresome.  The characters don’t evolve, they simply move from one role to the next, punctuated with Kenneth Posner’s needle-sharp lighting design and only a hint of a life outside of the stage in-between. As a result, our investment in them and the characters that they embody is as brief as the span of a commercial, sometimes shorter.

While Stewart and Knight break their legs to the best of their abilities under Neil Pepe’s direction, their performances are enhanced by Laura Bauer’s costumes and Santo Loquasto’s scenic design.  Every getup makes Captain Jean-Luc Picard less regal and almost human and a lost-at-sea scene is particularly amusing when you get a peek behind the scenes—literally—look at the boat.

If A Life in the Theatre is Mamet’s commentary on acting, he must have a love/hate perception of the craft.  Here, theatre is all-consuming—more so for Robert than John—and that would be great if the characters remained fervent about their profession.  But they don’t.  Years peel away, the labor loses love, and relationships aren’t formed so that this once illustrious career becomes nothing more than a bunch of stamps on a time card. Sigh.

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Carol Rosegg

scheduled to close January 2, 2011 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://lifeinthetheatre.com


Gwen October 24, 2010 at 1:34 am

This hardly TR Knight’s first outing from Grey’s Anatomy. He played Leo Frank in “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum Sept. 23-Nov.15, 2010. In this role he sang for the first time since he was 20 and made his debut as a dancer in the raucous number, “Come Up to My Office.” The musical sold out several weeks and almost transfered to Broadway until the managers at the Circle in the Square Theater chose “The Miracle Worker” to box office thud. His fans who came as far away as Brazil, Australia, and the UK to name a few delighted in his moving performance and his grand departure from George O’ Malley.


It opened to acclaim from Variety:


The Hollywood Reporter:


And the NY Times itself, which unlike you saw the limits of George O’ Malley and Grey’s Anatomy:


Far be it for me to judge but do you believe the opportunity to work directly with Mamet, who was present for the first three days or rehearsals, and Neil Pepe pales in comparison to the worn-out writing of Shonda Rhimes, whom the Emmys have rightfully snubbed for the last two years and whose audience decline is precipitous. This may be Mamet at his slightest but apparently you believe ghost sex, a hospital shootout, and regurgitated storylines from its glory days is so much more worth it. Of course there’s the opportunity to star alongside Sir Patrick Stewart, which Knight has humbly likened to an apprenticeship. Unlike many actors he believes learning doesn’t stop when you graduate from acting class but continues throughout your life and in the company you choose to keep. To you the master thespian, Patrick Dempsey, trumps a man who spent 50+ years acting and who rose alongside his fellow knights Ben Kingsley and Ian McKellen and the great actress, Glenda Jackson.

I’m not arguing this is a great Mamet play as I read the original script and it’s an acquired taste. What I have to laugh is you imply it was better for him to languish in the ever tedious Grey’s Anatomy than to venture forth and refine his craft and expand his horizons. Furthermore I can’t help but correct many of your factual mistakes. Yes, they work in a repertory theater as Neil Pepe, TR Knight, and Patrick Stewart made clear in their interviews regarding the play.

Cindy Pierre October 26, 2010 at 8:25 am

Dear Gwen,

thank you for your feedback. I was actually fully aware of T.R. Knight’s role in Parade. I neither indicated in my review that this was Knight’s first venture after Grey’s Anatomy nor suggested that it would have been better for him to remain on the show if it was unsatisfying for him. However, given his very controversial exit from the show, I thought it pertinent to mention that the role he plays in this production is a far cry from the road that he publicly said he wanted to be on. My opinion about his work on the show up until his departure is not relevant to this review, but I will say here that I agreed that his character was drastically diminished. Note that I mentioned that the world was waiting for him to fail, and they were. Many expressed their opinion that he was doing the wrong thing. I for one applaud anyone who will walk away from money or disappointing circumstances in order to make themselves happy. I appreciate that you posted reviews of his work, but I never panned his performance in A Life in the Theatre. As for my “factual mistakes”, what the actors in the play have chosen to disclose in interviews is irrelevant. If it’s not in the script or in the performance, it doesn’t count.

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